While attending the memorial for Nelson Mandela in South Africa, President Barack Obama greeted Cuban president Raul Castro with a smile and handshake. As with most unscripted things caught by today’s instant media (including the alleged selfie that Pres. Obama took while at the event), there is plenty of criticism of the handshake.

From a faith standpoint, that handshake was exactly the thing to do. Aside from the fact that the event was  focused on remembering a man whose life was a testimony to the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, that handshake was absolutely perfect and appropriate. When will we ever learn that diplomacy trumps aggression?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”    Matthew 5: 44-45

We have to live those words, not just give lip service to them. Nelson Mandela did. So did Barack Obama.

Today is a national holiday...people all over the country will be gathering for food and fellowship on this Super Bowl Sunday.  I think there should be a Super Bowl Monday holiday for those who need to recover from their festivities.

Still, it is a Sunday, which leads to the natural question: Who is God backing in the Super Bowl?

You might think that’s a trivial question, but according to CNN.com, “…27% of Americans believe that God plays a role in which team wins….That means about 80 million Americans believe that God will help one of the teams in this Sunday’s Super Bowl.”

This evening, God will be barraged by prayers for kickers to miss or make goals, for quarterbacks to be on target or tackled, and for Ray Lewis to retire with a big bang, and of course, that’s only if the Ravens win.

CNN again:

“Are there any signs that might indicate which team God may support in the match between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers?

It’s truly a tough call. Both teams feature stars who have publicly declared their strong connection with the big guy in the sky. The Ravens’ Ray Lewis excitedly announced after his team’s victory propelling them to the Super Bowl: “God is so amazing.” While the 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently said: “I think God watches over everybody. … He has a plan for everyone.”

I’m a loyal Patirots fan. I hope both teams lose….which is extremely unlikely.

There’s a lot of loyalty and pride caught up in sporting events. Fans cheer for the home town team, and as we saw last year when the Red Sox struggled, the same loyal cheering fans can quickly boo the person they think responsible, whether pitcher or manager.

The attraction of cheering for a team, especially a consistent winning dynasty, is that it makes us feel better about ourselves, without having to lift a finger. And when a player is homegrown, our pride is immense, as if we had something to do with that player’s success.

Vicarious success…what a great thing!

Vicarious success is part of this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke.  Jesus the local boy has made good.  Isn’t this the son of Joseph the carpenter? Look how well he’s turned out–everybody is talking about him, he’s bringing notice to our little town of Nazareth. It takes a community to raise a child and look at what a good job we’ve done.

By the end of the event Luke records, the fans have turned into outraged enemies, driving Jesus out of town and attempting to push him over the cliff.

What’s wrong? Did he get too big for his britches? Did he think to highly of himself and forget his roots?

The about-face from pride and support of Jesus to attempted homicide is caused by the fact that Jesus told the truth.

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there were severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarepath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Namaan the Syrian.”

The truth is that the truth is hard to hear. The truth is…that God loves the outsiders, and at times when Israel needed help, God passed over Israel to help an outsider.

Nobody standing in that synagogue wanted Jesus to remind them that there were people that God loved and redeemed who were outside of children of Israel. Nobody wanted to hear that the hometown fans didn’t have a corner on God’s attention, favor, and blessing.

Hometown fans–whether New Englanders for the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins (or anybody else for those other teams) –not only have strong feelings for their teams, they have a combined sense of ownership: their  teams.  Ownership means control. Control means predictability. Get out of line and the fans turn ugly.

The people who knew Jesus as a hometown boy had strong feelings for God and the resulting sense of ownership; as a result, they didn’t want to hear the truth about God’s expansive grace.

God will not be owned by those God has created.

God will not be controlled.

God will not be predictable…except in the predictable expectation we have that God will act with grace, which means God is predictably unpredictable in a immensely positive and redemptive way.

The real challenge for all of us as we hear this text is whether or not we really welcome this truth.  We may be politically correct enough not to label those we have trouble with as our enemies, but we’re skilled at dividing, separating, and marginalizing those who don’t fit, don’t agree, or don’t applaud us, for whatever reasons.

But the truth is…that God ignores the walls we build. God cannot be contained by our fickle attitudes of love and hate.

The truth is enough to drive us wild. The truth is also enough to redeem us.

Amen.

Scripture quotation from the New Revised Standard Version. CNN.com reference titled: “Who is God Backing in the Super Bowl?”

The shared observances today of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the inaugural of Barack Obama’s second term as President of the United States should focus our thoughts on the continuing work for justice.

Dr. King’s brilliant intelligence, fiery words and commitment to non-violence inspired others to demand justice and equality for those who had been marginalized because of the color of their skin. Sixty years later, an African-American man begins his second term as President. His re-election proves that President Obama is neither a fluke nor a token African-American leader. I suspect that history will remember this President for his courage and wisdom, rather than just for the color of his skin.  Sadly, history may also remember President Obama’s tenure as a time when prejudice still was voiced with continued questions about the legality of birthplace and birth certificate.

A reporter on NPR spoke this morning from a spot at the Memorial to Dr. King on the Mall, at the opposite end of where the Inaugural festivities will be held. The memorial was built on the spot where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. What a fabulous image….Dr. King at one end of the Mall and President Barack Hussein Obama at the other end.

In between those ends is a lot of space. The reporter said that it would be hard to see and hear what was going on from his vantage point, though he expected there would be lots of live-streaming going on with smart phones.

In that space will be lots of people, people, whom we might assume by their presence at the Inaugural, are committed to working for justice, to breaking down racial barriers, to reforming not only our use of guns but our national acceptance of violence, to fighting for immigration reform, and to speaking out for the poor in the political conversation about debt.

Even before his death on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was already beginning to address the need for a wider justice that addressed more than the black/white issue. When he spoke of “the world house” and “the beloved community,” he was speaking of our global inter-relatedness and the need for all people to work together for justice.

A great antidote to the narrow view of Dr King as a voice for only race relations is the new book containing Dr. King’s writings and speeches on the need for global transformation and justice: “In a Single Garment of Destiny”–A Global Vision of Justice; Edited and Introduced by Lewis V. Baldwin; Beacon Press, Boston; Kindle edition, 2013.

Here is an excerpt from the book that I find particularly relevant. It is from Dr. King’s published statement, “The World House” from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967. 

“…too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we must lean to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.

We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.

…Our hope for creative living in this world house that we have inherited lies in our ability to reestablish the moral ends of our lives in personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawakening we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments. 

[“In a Single Garment of Destiny”–A Global Vision of Justice]

I highly recommend “In a Single Garment of Destiny.” Dr. King’s voice still needs to be heard especially in this world house that is victimized more and more by violence.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

18 Pentecost  30 Sept 2013

I love British detective stories, especially those of Agatha Christie.  Just last week, I was reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It’s the usual formula–everybody in the family is gathered in the big house, the rich matriarch dies, the new will is lost, and everyone in the house is suspect because everyone in the house has a motive. Of course, the peculiar and fastidious Belgian detective Hercule Poirot just happens to be near. One of the suspects tells Poirot she’s sure the murderer is the new husband  and Poirot responds: “….if Mr. Inglethorpe is the man, he shall not escape me. On my honour, I will hang him as high as Haman!”

As high as Hamman! I had just read the lesson from Esther and was surprised to find the  Sunday lesson in a Poirot novel!

That phrase–hang him as high as Haman–may not be in common usage, but if you hear one of your enemies say it about you, go the other way.

The story of Haman is embedded in the story of Esther. It is the story of reversals of fortunes, of the immense violence exacted by retribution, of human lust for power gone wrong.

Here’s a summary of the book of Esther (here’s the waiver–this isn’t a scholarly summation; I just want us to get the gist of what is happening):

Esther is the cousin and adopted daughter of Mordecai. Mordecai is a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin. He’s a 2nd generation Jew living in Persia, as a result of the forced exile of Jews, including Esther and Mordecai’s grandfather,  out of Israel into Persia. Many of the exiled Jews held onto their own laws and customs rather than be assimilated into the Persian culture.

Ahasuerus is King of Persia. His Queen is Vashti. During a big festival, Ahasuerus summons Vashti, who refuses to appear. That’s the end of Vashti.

Now, Ahasuerus needs a new queen. All the local virgins are gathered up, Esther among them, just like The Bachelor Show. Esther is chosen, though  Ahasuerus doesn’t know she’s a Jew.

Meanwhile, Mordecai, is hanging around outside the King’s gate, waiting for news of Esther, and discovers a plot to kill the King. He tells Esther about the plot,  and Esther tells the King.  The plot is thwarted and the men are put to death.

Haman is King Ahasuerus’ top aide, a very powerful man who is really impressed with himself. Haman convinces the King to decree that people should bow down when Haman passes, just as if Haman is a king. Only Mordecai won’t bow down.

When Haman finds out that the reason is because Mordecai is a Jew, he is infuriated.There’s a reason Haman hates Jews. Haman is a descendant of the tribe of Amalekites who were all but wiped out by King Saul and David.

So, Haman plots to destroy all the Jews. He tells the King that there is a certain people, immigrants, scattered among the King’s kingdom. They have different laws and do not keep the King’s laws. They will make the kingdom unstable, so Haman suggests that the King issue a decree for their destruction, which the King does.On a particular day (this is important),  the 13th day of the 12th month, all Jews, young and old, women and children, are to be annihilated.

Mordecai hears this and dons sack cloth and ashes in order to do some intense praying to God to intervene. Mordecai shows Esther the decree, and convinces her to go to the king and plead for the life of her people, the Jews.

Esther does, at risk to her own life, because it’s an executable offense to approach the King uninvited. The King spares her, listens, and agrees to go with Haman to Esther’s for a banquet the following night, at which  time she will ask the King to grant her petition to spare the lives of the Jews.

Haman, meanwhile, doesn’t know about any of this, and he goes out in good spirits to supervise the construction of a gallows, 50 cubits high (about 75 feet), built outside his house. Mordecai will hang on this gallows.

However, that night, the King cannot sleep, so he starts reading the book of records and reads about Mordecai who had saved his life. He hasn’t known the name of the man who uncovered the assassination plot. The King discovers that Mordecai has not been honored for his great deed.

The King calls in Haman, and asks him what to do for a man the king wishes to honor. Haman, being such an egotist, thinks the King is being coy and wants to honor Haman, so he suggests dressing the honoree up in royal robes and giving him a ride around the city square on a royal horse, led by one of the king’s most noble officials.

King likes the idea and tells Haman to go get Mordecai, and dress Mordecai in the royal robes and lead Mordecai astride a royal horse around the city, being honored by the King, for all to see. Haman is mortified. This was not the plan.

After the mortifying ride, Haman has to go to Esther’s banquet. At the banquet, the King asks Esther for her petition. She asks that the lives of her people be spared. Esther accuses Haman as the wicked person who would have annihilated a whole people and brought disgrace upon the king. The King orders Haman to be executed. Haman is hanged from the gallows he himself built for Mordecai.

Haman hangs. Mordecai is given the King’s signet ring and has great power and influence in the kingdom.

There are missing verses in the lectionary reading. I’m always curious about what is left out, as well as what is included. In art, this is called the “negative space” which surrounds positive space and often is very important.

The verses edited out of today’s reading tell about retribution, not a peaceful ending. Instead of the Jews being annihilated, Mordecai orders the annihilation of the house of Haman.

The particular day on which the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over the Jews is  changed to the day in which the Jews gain power over the enemy.

The Jews gathered in their cities throughout the kingdom and struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering and destroying them and did as they pleased with those who hated them.

Esther’s act of courage and generosity is remembered in the feast of Purim which celebrates the month long ago that was turned for the Jews from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday. It is a time of sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Which is wonderful…but embedded in this story is a story which has no end. Today, the retribution continues. The world waits as Israel threatens to attack Iran, modern day Persia. Iran threatens to use nuclear power for other than peaceful means.

In the end, the whole world is victim of the violence  that threatens to hang enemies “as high as Haman.” As long as we, the human race, are insistent on retribution rather than love, we are marching toward Haman’s gallows.

Esther’s story is wonderful. Intertwined with Esther are the stories of Mordecai, the exiled Jews, Haman, and the annihilation of the Amalekites.

The good things…loyalty, courage, faithfulness, and righteousness, do not exist in a vacuum. The celebrations have to exist with times of mourning. Gladness exists with sorrow.

Until we choose to be loving and courageous as Esther rather than vindictive as Haman and Mordecai, this story has no end.

It has to end or we will all end in an increasingly violent spiral of retribution.

We who identify ourselves as marked as Christ’s own have to proclaim an end to violence as a solution for evil. We have to be as loving and courageous as Esther, but join our voices with those of people of other faiths against policies that return evil for evil. It’s a dead end…literally.

Amen.

 

John 6:51-58

12 Pentecost – 19 August 2012

Being Eucharist people, we hear Jesus’ words and know exactly what he’s saying. After all, we drop down on our knees at a wooden rail every week, hands outstretched to receive a paper thin, tasteless wafer which we consume or dip into a chalice of not-so-great wine.

This is not a gourmet meal. But it’s the most important meal of the week.

This meal, for faithful people, is all about resurrection and being in the presence of the risen Christ. This meal is where we, as a family which identifies as the Body of Christ, find unity, wholeness, worthiness, mercy, grace. We eat together and become family, brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’m reading Barney Hawkins’ memoir of more than 30 years of ministry in the Episcopal Church–Episcopal Etiquette and Ethics (Morehouse Publishing, 2012). It’s a good book, full of great stories and theological reflection, and I highly recommend the book. It’s a theological and liturgical delight.

Hawkins reminds us that the greatness of the meal does not mean that things necessarily go as planned. Hawkins offers a variety of mishaps, including:

The day the paten is brought forward not with the expected loaf of bread, but with the bread, freshly arrived at the altar straight from the bakery, bag, tight twist tie, and all.  The priest must fumble with the bag and tie at the altar, in front of the congregation, and, as Hawkins writes, “…wondering all the while about how to get the future Jesus out of the bag?”

[Hawkins, Episcopal Etiquette and Ethics, 36]

I am the living bread that came down from heaven…Just untie the bag and get on with it.

The bread is the mystery that Jesus promised us…living bread from heaven…but what happens when a congregants’ expectations don’t jive with solid theology? Read on…

At a burial Eucharist, the grieving widow asks the celebrant to tuck a consecrated wafer in the urn so her deceased husband can have “…Communion one last time….We cannot leave him out.” 

[Hawkins, Episcopal Etiquette and Ethics, 36]

Hawkins counsels, don’t even think about doing it…”Communion is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.” The deceased doesn’t need that wafer because he’s already at the banquet. He’s already with Jesus. The wafer is for us, living on earth, so that we get a glimpse of the heavenly banquet when we, too, will be with Jesus. Until then, no wafers in the urns or caskets.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

It’s this bread that lies in our hands as we outstretch them to receive the wafer–living bread, heavenly bread.It is mystery bound up in a little flour and water hardened and dried into a little wafer.

Receiving the bread  is a great mystery. When we come to the altar, we are drawn up into this mystery. Jesus promises us that in the eating of his flesh and in the drinking of his blood, we abide in him and he abides in us.

Then we leave the altar rail, go back to our pews, and our lives. Life goes on.  We don’t go on alone. Jesus abides with us.

If we have to come back week after week, to eat the bread and drink the blood, it’s not because that mystery of abiding in us is ineffective.

It’s because glimpsing that heavenly banquet gives us hope.

Amen.

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

11 Pentecost  —  12 August 2012

President Obama signed new veterans package into law in August. Included in that bundle of laws was a law supported by one of our NH representatives, Charlie Bass, increasing the amount of protection at military funerals…distance between mourners and protestors…in effect, protecting grieving military families who are burying their loved heroes from protesters who aim to disrupt the services.

The protesters are a specific group…the members of the Westwood Baptist Church, an independent Baptist church in Kansas.  Most of the members are related to the church’s leader, Fred Phelps. The church members travel all over the country to tell others that God hates them. They hold posters that proclaim in big, black letters, “God Hates You.” I feel stabbed in the heart every time I see the photos in the media. This is not the One God that I know.

I must be naive. It is always inconceivable to me that anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian could be so vindictive and so capable of such ugly rhetoric and action.

I must be blind and deaf, as well as naive. The temptation to speak ugly words, to be angry and let anger be fuel for revenge, is a powerful force, even for Christians. After all, Christians are human, and are as vulnerable to the work of the devil as the next guy.

I still expect, after many years of evidence to the contrary, that churches are made up of kind and loving people, not liars, slanderers, and vengeful hate-mongers. A faithful person reminded me long ago, the first time I expressed surprise and horror over some church fight, that churches are hospitals for sinners.

Church conflict is not rare. There are many books dealing with church conflict, how to manage it, how to reduce it, how to survive it. I’ve never seen a book on how to avoid it. That would be unrealistic. As long as we are human, as long as we live in the tension between love and fear, we’ll have conflict.

Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians, is giving some Rules for the New Life. The New Life is the gathered faith community, rooted in the love of God. Paul knows that the usual human ways of dealing with community and relationships, the broken community of the Old Life,  simply will not do in the New Life in Christ.

What worse advertisement could there be for this New Life than to see the adherents lying, cheating, getting revenge, stealing, not taking care of the needy…all the things that break down the common life, rather than build it up?

The New Life will be noticeably different than the Old Life. The New Life will be marked by people who speak truth, who acknowledge the interrelatedness of all people, who have the normal reactions such as anger to witnessing injustice but do not let anger take over so that they respond with revenge rather than love.

Did you notice that Paul counsels the thieves to give up stealing and then work honestly with their own hands so that they have something to share with the needy? The New Life focuses on love, not retribution. Even the sinner who has repented and changed direction can be welcomed in this New Life

Most of this information is self-evident. It’s great in theory, but at times not practiced. So, if good behavior rather than bad behavior is the obvious way for a community to go, why did Paul write this letter?

Paul wrote about the New Life versus the Old Life because the bad behavior was present in the gathered faith community. Being New Creations hadn’t really sunk in. People came to faith as they were, broken and imperfect. It would take time and counsel for them to grow into the New Life that God offers.

Loving, speaking truth, not letting anger or bitterness get the better of them, being kind to one another, and caring for the needy and not behaving or making decisions that make the needy’s plight worse….none of these things were automatic, even for those who made conscious decisions to follow the Way of Christ.

The New Life calls us to something most folks have probably never known–unconditional love and acceptance, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. The New Life calls us to be a gathered community that shares responsibility for one another’s well-being, that imitates God, who loves unendingly and welcomes the prodigals.

The New Life has a set of rules that are not the world’s rules, those rules argue for survival of the fittest or doing to others before they do to you.

The New Life is hard work. It demands commitment and effort. It demands that we be imitators of God, and live in love as Christ loved us. Living in love as Christ loved means offering our selves, our bodies, our souls up to God…even if sacrificially…meaning we have to give up something to make room or time or space for God.

What we do, whether we choose to live in the New Life or the Old Life, matters because what we do shapes who we are: a community shattered by the dead ends of the Old Life, or a community gathered by the fruits of love and mercy.

We shouldn’t be deceived into thinking it’s an easy choice. For those who follow Christ, it’s the only choice.

Amen.

 

 

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

6 Pentecost/7 July 2012–Preached at St. John’s, Walpole

The lesson from 2 Corinthians, chapter 12,  is part of a much larger discussion of Paul’s sufferings as an apostle.

It’s kind of a competition. “So you think you’ve suffered? Paul says, “Listen to this list of my sufferings:”

  • 5 times received forty lashes minus one
  • 3 times beaten with rods
  • 1 stoning
  • 3 times shipwrecked, once adrift at sea for a night and a day
  • in danger from rivers, bandits, Jews, Gentiles, the city, the wilderness, at sea, from false brothers and sisters
  • hungry and thirsty
  • often without food
  • cold and naked

As if all of this isn’t enough, Paul adds that in addition to this list of sufferings, he’s under daily stress because of his anxiety for all the churches.

This is definitely boasting about weaknesses. Quite frankly, Paul’s list leaves me wondering why he stayed in the missionary business. I know ministers who have been beaten up in congregations, and I know of congregations that have a reputation for eating alive any clergy person that tries to settle in, but this is ridiculous!

It seems that Paul has had plenty of experience with visions and revelation, whether his own (on the Damascus Road) or through the experiences of others (the person in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up to the third heaven). That kind of experience is far more fascinating to the curious and those on the edge of the church.

“A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.”

Ministry is never about those exercising it. When it becomes that, when ministry becomes something about which to boast, it loses a great deal of substance. Think of the spectacular downfall of so many televangelists, heading huge mega-churches, much of their ministry and fame based on their egos and personalities, no matter how much they talk about God.

The irony of contemporary ministry, compared to Paul’s day, is that we’ve built such fine institutions that those who proclaim God’s good news don’t have to be in danger of feeling the thorns. We’re preaching to the choir.

Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said that the church exists for those outside its walls. Ministry, then, is about gathering and doing the work necessary to  reach those outside the walls. That means being pushed out of our comfort zones, and possibly into areas where we will find thorns, ridicule, disbelief, insults, persecution, calamities. Boasting is probably not going to attract those who most need to hear God’s good news.

Paul, with his long list of sufferings, and Jesus, laughed out of his hometown, have this in common: they pushed out beyond familiar territory, they spoke truth to power, they challenged people to let go of many gods in favor of the One God, and they found strength in weakness.

It’s not that I like the thorns, but I have a growing suspicion that ministry–all of our mutual ministry– is not about being liked, applauded, or affirmed. It is about God’s grace being sufficient, and our depending on that grace. It’s about finding renewed strength in weakness. It’s about knowing that even in the rough times, when we struggle with empty pews, dwindling finances and tight budgets, that God is still calling us turn our backs on anxiety and reach out to those outside the church. In grace we will find strength.

So, go ahead, let’s name our list of hardships and sufferings. Perhaps in the naming we’ll realize that grace truly is sufficient.

Amen.

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Today is July 4th–Independence Day, a day of celebrating freedom for all. Freedom is a great aspiration, but anyone who has studied American history knows that the pursuit of freedom for all has been a sometimes painful process. If you don’t like history, watch the news. Freedom is bound up in the debates about immigration and who can stay in this country and who must leave, and in the emotional arguments for and against handgun control, just to mention a couple of the freedom debates.

President Woodrow Wilson argued that “…the American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.”  The scorecard on the ongoing pursuit for freedom isn’t perfect. There are times in our communal American life where the choices to be made have been made out of fear and anxiety, instead of the lofty goal of freedom for all.

I just finished a very good novel, based on actual events, called Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Books, 2009). The author is part Chinese. Ford is the surname adopted by his great-grandfather, Min Chung, when he immigrated to America. That’s a common practice that says volumes about the pursuit of freedom.

The historic event  portrayed in this well-written book is the internment of the Japanese living on the West Coast from 1942-1945. The story is two stories: the story of the dark wartime chapter in American history as experienced in Seattle, and the story of two young teenagers, a Chinese boy named Henry and Keiko, a Japanese girl, who find a bond of friendship because they are both targets of predjudice and racism. The novel is told from the perspective of the mature and retired Henry, who deals with a present full of painful memories. The sad part of this chapter of American history is not just that the Japanese-Americans were imprisoned, but their possessions were looted, their real estate and businesses essentially stolen, and their patriotism ignored.Image

Fear was the motivating force that allowed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue the order that allowed the roundup and internment of tens of thousands of Japanese, including Japanese-Americans, born on the soil of a nation that had the whole concept of freedom as part of its identity.

America has also included the concept of being a melting pot as part of its identity. I’m not a sociologist or political scientist, but it seems that the concept of the melting pot is an attempt to “melt away”  the dilemma of diversity co-existing with freedom.

Br. Mark Brown, of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, wrote about diversity as part of the SSJE’s online daily email “Brother, Give Us a Word.” Br. Mark was writing about the influence of the Spirit on the Church, but his words about diversity bear reflection:

“Diversity itself can be inflammatory. For better or worse. Diversity within a single body is a lovely vision…; it’s also a recipe for combustion.”

Whether in Seattle, California, Oregan, or anywhere else on the West Coast in 1942, the arrest and captivity of Japanese Americans citizens in what were essentially concentration camps was a result of fear and of diversity that had become inflammatory and a recipe for combustion. On this Independence Day 2012, we should remember the mistakes as well as the glories. The potential looms ominously for fear of diversity to create new recipes for combustion–whether it is illegal immigrants or the fate of the children with illegal status but raised in the US, defending borders, legal definitions of marriage, voter identity in registration, as well as other politically charged issues.

Freedom and independence are things truly worthy of national pride. At the same time, we should also be proud of the voices that remind us that not all our citizens are free of prejudice, bias, poverty, the trauma of war, unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and so forth.

Wilson had it right: the American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation. There’s still glorious, radical work to be done, even two-hundred and twenty-six years later!

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The Maine Coast…somewhere south of Portland, near Two Lights Park, I think. The water is a huge inspiration for me, one of my main muses, whether for me as a Preacher or a Painter. Water, in all its brilliance and power, is a great metaphor for creativity. Water sustains life. Water cleanses. Water is powerful, but not always controllable. Life is constantly renewing in water, organisms thriving, re-creating, renewing, refreshing. Water…in the ocean, carving away at the rocks. Water…in the font, carving away at human resistance to God’s creative power, redeeming, recreating, renewing.